Cimarron Country Panorama
Cimarron Country Panorama, San Juan Mountains, Colorado
After nineteen years of photographing Colorado full-time, it's a rare treat to discover a fresh vantage point. During the fall color season in 2010 I found such a vantage point 2,200 vertical feet above the valley of the East Fork of the Cimarron River, in the San Juan Mountains of southwest Colorado. The approach hike with a pack full of camera and camping gear, plus a gallon of water, was arduous, and I paid little attention to photographic possibilities en route. I was fortunate to be able to photograph a spectacular stormy sunrise the next day, which was followed by an exquisite rainbow.
When I returned in the fall of 2011 to the same location, I was less fixated on reaching my destination. As I was hiking up the Alpine Trail, I came to a small saddle on a subsidiary ridge projecting outward from the side of the valley. I had walked past this saddle twice the previous year without stopping. Curious this time, I dropped my load and hiked a quarter mile along the crest of the ridge to the rocky knoll at its end. Reaching the summit of the knoll required scrambling along an exposed, crumbling ledge, then surmounting a short headwall of lichen-covered rock.
I stepped onto the summit and was rewarded with a sweeping view of the East Fork and Middle Fork of the Cimarron River, with 14,309-foot Uncompahgre Peak and 14,015-foot Wetterhorn Peak standing sentinel at the heads of the two valleys. Fluted buttresses and towers lined the valley walls and capped the ridge that separated the two valleys. Aspen groves at the peak of fall color were interspersed with evergreens along the valley bottom. I shot a few study frames and continued up to my original destination. This year that location proved to be a disappointment, but I returned two days later to my new vantage point and made the broad panorama you see here.